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November 17, 2012

Law school grads find supply exceeds demand for new lawyers

(Continued)

Given that, perhaps Chemerinsky is brilliant in his bid to create a Yale of the West. If the middle is now doomed, the bottom has always been doomed, and only the elite are likely to weather the storm, then join the elite.

But if UC-Irvine Law ends up being just another respected middle-of-the-pack academy, its graduates, who will soon number 200 a year, will join the crisis already affecting the students of mid-tier schools.

Consider this: Of the 576 who graduated George Washington University this year, 20 percent — 112 — are employed as lawyers only because GWU pays them $15 an hour, up to $525 each week, to do volunteer work. The average indebtedness of GWU's class of 2011 was $127,360. Trying to adjust, the school trimmed first-year enrollment this fall by 16 percent, to 400.

As these grand colliding forces play out, the future may be ripe for what Peer Monitor's Medice envisioned: low-cost, bare-bones law programs that act more like trade schools.

The law school at the University of the District of Columbia seems to be working in that vein. It is not fancy, housed as it is in a newly renovated but far from swank building on upper Connecticut Avenue. It is not even ranked on an overall basis by U.S. News, though UDC's curriculum requiring hundreds of hours of hands-on training does rank 10th on U.S. News's list of top clinical programs in the country.

An embarrassingly low percentage — just 20.5 percent — of its 2011 graduates are reported as employed nine months post-graduation in full-time jobs requiring a JD. A hyper-practical law degree from UDC is hardly a sure thing.

But it doesn't pretend to be, and perhaps that is what is rather refreshing about it. UDC Law's dean, Shelley Broderick, is a wry, unpretentious former criminal defense attorney who paid her way through Georgetown Law with loans and the proceeds of her job as a Teamster working on the Trans-Alaska pipeline.

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